Andrew Drummond has been Thailand’s best-known foreign investigative journalist for as long as anyone can remember. Andrew didn’t just cover the big news stories like the Tsunami and Thailand’s many coups, he also wrote about the goings on and the characters of Thailand’s expat underbelly.
Andrew’s website, Andrew-Drummond.com, is a treasure trove of articles featuring many of the foreign crooks, con men and miscreants who have made Thailand home.
Shining a bright light on bad guys can be hazardous anywhere, but especially so in Thailand, and being so forthright come at a cost. Andrew has been threatened, and so has his family. He has had a gun pulled on him in Nana Plaza. His Thailand-centric website has been blocked in Thailand. And he was essentially driven out of the country.
In 2015 Andrew left Thailand to return to his native UK with the rumour mill going wild about why and how Andrew left.
Today I run a series of questions that I put to Andrew about his life in Thailand, and why and how he left. The Stickman budget does not extend to flying around the world to carry out an interview in person so what follows is a Q+A with Andrew that was done by email.
There has been much speculation on the reason(s) why you left Thailand. Some say it was putting your kids’ future first. Others say it was because of threats. What’s the truth?
That’s pretty much all true. I had actually planned to leave a year earlier, but I stayed to continue fighting court cases under the Computer Crime Act brought by convicted criminals. I had planned to stay until the end, but the costs were high, and I could not expect benefactors to continued to support me forever. What made my mind up for me was an offer by boiler room fraudsters of a ‘get out of jail free card’ if I sold them my website (for destruction of course). By paying police in Thailand and the Philippines these people had had people jailed on completely trumped-up charges. Then of course there were the recent allegations by former boiler room bag men that they had even stooped to murder. I could not take any risk of being set up, say on drugs, even though there would be no real case against me. The case would just be made up. I have seen it happen. As for going to the Embassy for assistance, well they do not ‘interfere with the justice systems of host foreign countries’. I received a call from the then thoroughly corrupt Crime Suppression Division who said they were investigating ‘boiler rooms’. Could I help? I got a call from US law enforcement authorities advising me not to attend.
If anything happened to me I would lose my children of course. With the cost of fighting cases I was not in a position any more to have them privately educated in Thailand. But I did not like that option anyway. I wanted them educated in a British environment. I would have had to leave for this reason alone, so my departure was merely hastened. I had been dithering.
There was also much conjecture about just how you left. The rumour mill went in to overdrive around the time you left with some saying you fled across the border to Cambodia away from an official checkpoint, traipsing through the jungle while holding your kids’ hands. Care to fill us in on what really went down, that is if it’s not incriminating?!
Again those stories are based on fact. Having made the decision to leave I did not wish to leave through Suvarnabhumi Airport as the boiler rooms had the airports customs and immigration tied up with them at the time, and with my children with me I did not want any hassle. I was carrying a large amount of cash.
Yes there was a border bypass in Cambodia, which meant a walk through the trees with my kids. But I was treating this as a holiday.
I was in touch with Interpol or rather the Foreign Affairs Division of the neighbouring country and they assisted my family’s travel back to the UK and we were even saluted at the next border and the shortfall in entry stamps to the country was ignored.
You were over 20 years in Thailand, and you’ve been back in the UK a couple of years or so, right? How have you found the adjustment back to life in the UK?
Well of course it was a major culture shock and it has taken me the full two years to adjust. If you have been away 30 years the difference is dynamic. For most people it has just crept up on them and they have not noticed. The most obvious visual shock was that it seemed that someone had taken a bicycle pump to the whole population and pumped them up, particularly the women, although perhaps I was noticing it more in the women.
I would not be like to be here as a young person say in my 20s and I can now sort of understand why Brits go wild when they are abroad. But life’s good and my kids love it. Now I’m back to having family holidays in southern Europe.
Leaving when you did and the way you did, were you a victim of your own success? Dean Barrett once commented to me that, “Investigative journalists in Thailand have the shelf life of a carton of milk.” You had a great run and given that you wrote some forthright stuff about some heavy hitters, some might say you were lucky to get out alive.
Yes. Dean Barrett is correct although it’s rather stating the obvious.
I had to laugh once when the supremo at the Bangkok Post gave a lecture at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand on ‘investigative journalism’.
But there was a point in Thailand when after happily working for 20 years as a Foreign Correspondent I said: ‘F…. this for a game of soldiers’, just as I had 20 years ago in Fleet Street when I decided I no longer wanted to work ‘as staff’ on any newspaper.
What was really happening in Thailand in the justice system and on the crime and fraud front was not being reported anywhere. So I concentrated on the crooks.
Of course there was bound to be a time limit and I kept it up much longer than the shelf life of a bottle of milk. Personally I found it very rewarding. It has also been rewarding helping the families of the victims of murder in Thailand and since being in the UK some have welcomed me into their homes. But actually I did get away with it. Had it not been for my children, and possibly my age, I would have stayed to battle it out. People who read my website know I just chip and chip and chip until I get the result.
Some people are so heavily principled that they put their integrity and their desire to tell the truth ahead of the potential cost to their own personal freedom and safety. You’ve written a few things about people which I have no doubt are true, but which have seen you threatened numerous times throughout your career and face court cases in a country with a justice system that many have little confidence in. Do you ever regret the hardline you have taken against some people. I mean, you’ll probably never be able to visit Thailand again in this lifetime, will you?
Well if you do not have principles you don’t have anything, do you? No. I have not regretted anything. Actually there is no block on me in Thailand and of course my children still have their old Thai passports and when they are older they can choose. I have no desire to go back to Thailand in the near future. There is so much to do here and in Europe, which I have missed. But yes of course I will return to Thailand in the more distant future.
As someone who has himself left Thailand, I am happy with the decision to leave and have no regrets and why would I? I live in one of the best places on the planet. But that said, there will always be things we miss about Thailand such as our favourite massaman curry shop or #25 in Billboard. Do you have any regrets about leaving and what are the things you miss most?
The weather. I feel cold in the UK, but my kids don’t mind. Maybe it’s my age. Most of the things I would miss I’m rather old for now. I’m a 24/7 dad. The lifestyle was good. I am grateful to have been a working journalist in the era when newspapers and television were sending me out on stories around the continent at the drop of a hat.
While you were a Bangkok-based investigative journalist for a long time and still pen some articles about goings on in the city, you never really did that much on the city’s famed naughty nightlife, only really touching on it when it intersected with the boiler room operators. Did you consider the nightlife side of things low hanging fruit and prefer the bigger stories?
Well I have done stuff on nightlife, but not bar reviews. I believe I have exposed a few Brit bar owners, but you’re right. There is a low hanging fruit element to it. Bigger stories are not always the best by any means. I have been involved in most of the major news events in Asia in the last 20 years, several coups, bombings in Bali, Tsunami of course, air crashes, Barings Bank crash, Royal Tours, etc etc. It’s the special exclusive trips I liked best, to places like, Cocos and Keeling Islands, Korea, Turkmenistan, Australia, and especially North Borneo, and the Spice Islands.
You have written a lot about boiler room operations in recent years and the involvement of Westerners in them. You have alleged various people have been involved in the industry and joined the dots between some of these people and the naughty nightlife industry. The one thing I don’t think I have ever seen on your site is irrefutable proof that these people are involved. Don’t get me wrong, I believe pretty much all you have alleged, and two of the miscreants, Mark Hutcherson and Glenn Bullard, were each remarkably open with me about what they did, as well as what some of the other people you have written about have done. Will there ever be an article published containing irrefutable evidence which joins the dots between some of these people and the boiler room operations they are alleged to have been involved in?
Well there is irrefutable proof but that would mean blowing the informants. You mention two American boiler room operators I have exposed. They are of course dead and cannot take action. There is only one major one, a Briton, left who I am personally interested in. I have named him. I have a lot of his accounts etc. But it’s another thing naming my witnesses. I have had interviews here in the UK with the City of London Fraud Squad. These people have boasted that they have they have committed the perfect crime. That’s not really true about the crime. But it is true in so far as they have set themselves up in a country where they can pay not to be arrested. The Thai Police role is vital in this. And so is that of the big banks. Does that answer your question? I have spent hours with police in Thailand, plus AMLO and the DSI. The DSI even offered me an office in their building to work with officers on it. But they did not seem to grasp the complexities.
Your website is blocked in Thailand. This is not something difficult to get done. Last I heard was that a 20,000 baht payment will get a pesky website blocked – although any larger website it would never happen to as too much attention would be drawn to it. Do you know who was responsible for getting your website blocked in Thailand? I ask this question as I assume it was something done privately and there was no court order specifying it be blocked.
Suspicions only. But I do not really care.
It’s not difficult to use tools such as VPNs or proxies to access sites that are blocked, but how many people are comfortable using them? Since the site has been blocked, what percentage of your Thailand readership do you think you’ve lost?
I’ve no idea. But I do not write so much nowadays. I have left the country. To continue to try to carry on in the old way would seem like an obsession. But if people bring things to me I will look at them. I am looking at a major fraud at the moment.
You set up a second domain name over a year ago with the same content, presumably so that it could also be accessed by anyone in Thailand. That worked for several months before that domain name was also blocked. Do you have any plans to acquire another domain name so those in Thailand can read your articles, or do you have any other plans such as syndicated publishing with your articles posted to other sites (I am sure Thai Visa would be interested)?
No. I’ll probably do the book. ThaiVisa? You have to be joking. I’d be gunning for half their advertisers.
Your website address is Andrew-drummond.com. For those who wish to read your wisdom but cannot access the site, what options do they have?
You have already suggested them. But I copy a lot to Facebook.
You and I run popular independent Thailand-centric websites – and we do so from outside the country. How do you find putting together articles about Thailand or people / things that happen in Thailand when you’re half a world away? Do you feel like you have one hand tied behind your back, or do you perhaps feel a certain liberty reporting things you perhaps wouldn’t say if you were in Thailand as, after all, you’re outside of the jurisdiction of Thailand’s Computer Crime Act (and out of reach of those who might choose to use methods not endorsed by the legal system to shut you up).
Do you think it is possible to stay relevant while living outside the country? Do you think you can write about events going on in Thailand and people living there from outside the country and be effective at it? Obviously I do the same thing and I have yet to come to a conclusion on that. I know readers still enjoy what I do, but living abroad one becomes more and more out of touch and slowly, less and less relevant. How do you find being a Thailand correspondent in the UK?
In answer to the two questions above, it’s all extremely difficult despite the fact that it is easy enough to communicate with Thailand.
It’s not the same as being there. It’s time to move on. I continue to watch projects I have been involved in, but I am less and less likely to take up new ones. It’s rather difficult from here.
There is a serial American con man and a convicted Scottish fraudster who you write a lot of articles about and include frequent updates on. Have you met either of these characters?
Yes. Many times. Usually in court – or on a stake-out. There has been a lot of pushing and shoving and threats. None I took seriously. One of them fled back to the States having been convicted of extortion and sentenced to jail. The other disappeared after being convicted of fraud and also sentenced to jail. They managed to get bail after their convictions from Pattaya court. It’s rather symptomatic of Thailand. You can name them if you want. I don’t think they’ll sue.
You have written about a lot of serial dodgy geezers over the years. Have you met many of the people you have written and about? Do you care to recount any of these meetings? Have you had any nasty experiences?
Surprisingly the worst thing that has happened to me is having a gun pulled on me in a small go-go bar in Nana Plaza by a Brit, who had just come out of a six-year stretch in the UK for drugs trafficking. He thought I was writing about him. I told him I was much more interested in No 25. Yes I was interested in him as he and another British expat who previously had not had more than a few baht to put together, had made a couple of recent transatlantic trips on Concorde.
That was a bit of a shock. Brit crims were more wary of media like me than the likes of the Thai police.
On the topic of exposing people, the MyThaiFiancee.com website was for some years a major advertiser of this website. But you effectively put an end to that when you wrote a fascinating article outing the guy as a kiddy fiddler. The owner of that website and business was someone I used to see every few months. He lived and worked but a kilometre away from where I lived and I would drop by his office from time to time and we would head off for lunch or dinner. I killed all his ads the day that article appeared and never spoke with nor saw him again. He was sentenced to 27 years in prison in Thailand, appealed it and then just disappeared off the face off the earth. What do you think ever happened to Brian Wright?
Wright changed his name I think, and tried to continue the business with his Thai legal adviser. I have had calls this year from the US about him. He not only has criminal charges against him there, but victims want to sue for damages. But I’m not on the ball on this one at the moment.
Looking ahead, what does the future hold for you? Are you going to continue the good work with your site, bringing the bad guys in to focus? Any other plans?
Well do you know I have had a great time all my working life as a journalist. Apart from South-East Asia I have also worked in Australia, the United States, South America and Africa and I fear I have been very selfish in terms of my private life. I have had great loves, whom I have let go, or more likely they let me go in exasperation, but then I had three children late in life. Prior to leaving Thailand I came to the conclusion, well it’s time to pay for my good time, and take up my responsibilities. This is going to be hard. But it’s karma.
Funnily enough, though the initial move was tough, this new chapter in my life is just great. I am with my kids 24/7 and have never thought ‘Please can I have just one day off!’ They’re so funny.
We have a little white-washed cottage in the country with a rose garden and lawn. And the address qualifies them to attend one of the top ten best schools in the UK (Sunday Times list). We’ve all got bikes and, well, we’re just an ordinary family.
I have a great picture library and worked closely with photographers and I have spent some time putting lots of picture books (with stories) together for my kids, so they had better not forget what their dad did. And what was that? He was just a guy tilting at windmills.